Disney Legend Burny Mattinson, who worked as an animator, director, producer, and story artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios during an unprecedented 70-year career, passed away Monday, February 27, 2023, at Canyon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park, California, following a short illness. He was 87 years old.
His Early Years
Burnett Mattinson was born in San Francisco on May 13, 1935, and when he was around six, his mother took him to the San Francisco Orpheum, where he saw Disney’s 1940 film Pinocchio.
“Ever since I saw that film, this was my dream,” Burny recalled in an interview with D23. “To work in this business. So I worked every day, drawing.”
After graduation, his mother drove him to Burbank and dropped him off at the Walt Disney Studio gate. His portfolio got him an instant interview, and a job…in the mailroom to start.
His Disney Career
Six months later, and with no formal art training, he started work as an in-betweener (a person who creates intermediate frames, called inbetweens, between two keyframes) on 1955’s Lady and the Tramp.
He was promoted to assistant animator under Marc Davis on 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, and continued in that capacity on 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
When that film ended, he began a twelve-year stint with Eric Larson, working on a variety of projects including The Wonderful World of Color television series, The Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats.
Inspired by a Disneyland Records Christmas album, Mattinson decided to be bold, and pitched an idea for a film version to Ron Miller, then head of the Studio.
Miller agreed with Burny’s idea, assigning the animator to direct 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which returned Mickey Mouse to the silver screen for the first time in 30 years. This success led to his contribution as producer and director on The Great Mouse Detective.
He continued to contribute to animated classics as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Mulan.
His most recent project was 2022’s Strange World.
“Animation is 75 percent thinking and 25 percent drawing,” Mattinson once said. “Everything must be carefully thought out first. Our animators not only have to think like actors but also figure out how to get that performance across on paper and on the screen. Our characters pause to think and connive. You can see it in their eyes.”
Mattinson was named a Disney Legend in 2008.
His Final Legacy
Burny Mattinson was the longest-serving cast member in the history of The Walt Disney Company, and was the last full-time Walt Disney Studios employee who had worked at the company when Walt Disney still ran it.
He was due to receive his 70th anniversary service award – the first ever for The Walt Disney Company – on June 4, 2023.
“Burny was the Renaissance man of Disney Animation,” said legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg, a close friend and colleague of Mattinson’s. “He literally did everything that could be done at the studio—assistant animator, animator, story artist, producer, and director of many films that made an indelible mark on our collective appreciation of the Disney ethos. He was also, when he started, traffic boy to Walt, giving Walt his weekly spending cash.”
Burny Mattinson is survived by his wife, Ellen Siirola; his son, Brett Mattinson, and his wife, Kelly, and their two children; and his daughter, Genny, her husband Larry Ellena, and their two children.
Funeral services will be private, and he will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the MPTF (Motion Picture and Television Fund) in Woodland Hills, California.